Let us pray:
In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Lord to discern the calling of your voice, that we may be obedient to your will for us in this place and time, now, in the midst of the beginning of your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.
Last week I began a three-part series on the fifth discourse in the Gospel of Matthew. To quickly review, last week’s parable made the most sobering point that preparedness for the unexpected time of the coming of the Messiah is of the utmost importance.
Specifically for us in our time and place today that means the way we live our lives in the lengthening interim between the first and second coming of the Messiah must be consistent with our claim to be disciples of that same Messiah, Jesus Christ. What is the difference between the foolish and the wise? Those who are wise do all within their power to be ready and to watch.
What is the reward of the wise and watchful? They join in the eschatological reward of the messianic banquet while the foolish find themselves excluded and without recourse. The bottom line of last week’s passage, and arguably the entire fifth discourse is the importance of preparedness, which looms larger and larger toward the end of this section of the Gospel.
Today’s passage gives us another example and another warning. The focus of today’s passage is not the watchfulness itself, but the quality of watchfulness we participate in. The question is still the same: recall the beginning of the conversation on the Mount of Olives:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Here Jesus sets out to answer it a second way: translating from Matthew’s Greek Jesus begins:
“Just as when a man readies to leave on a journey and entrusts his own possessions to his servants, he gives the first one 10 talents…”
Act out the story again…live the three characters of the parable with contemporary gifts/images…act out the parts, take the role of each, and make it come alive…
Character 1: Latin American Immigrant, working on behalf of a landowner, entrusted with 10 acres of potential cropland next to a working orchard. “Raul” is planning out the fruit harvest and spring’s pruning on existing lands and planning crop rotations when the master calls.
(Answering the phone) “Raul.”
“Oh! Buénos Tárdes, Señor! How are you today? … Aye, que buéno, glad to hear you are doing well, Señor. … I was just making plans for the fruit harvest and planning next spring’s pruning. … Yes, crop rotations for the central valley are on the board for the crews. … You what? … And you don’t know when you’ll be back? … Sí, Señor, sure, you can count on me, as always! … You don’t say! … The southern field? Next to the orchard? … You want to entrust it to me as if it were mine, Señor? … The whole time you are gone I am to do whatever I want with it? … And you don’t know when you will be back? … Sí, Señor, I will do it. … Okay, safe travels, Señor. All will be taken care of. Adiós.” (hang up).
“What will I do with a whole 10 acres? And he could be gone for several seasons? And I am to treat it as if it were mine? As if it were mine, he says…Ah, he is a crafty Master, that he is. Heh Heh Heh! Que Buéno! Let me see if I can surprise him with bountiful harvests when he returns. What a gift, 10 whole acres! Let’s see, what will I put on it? I could plant more fruit trees, since the orchard next to it is doing well. Hmm, I could put in some turnips and radishes; they always do well and grow so big here. The trees, those will take years to produce; the radishes and turnips, they would take one season. He said he didn’t know when he’d be back, and it could take him a long time. Hmm, what if I try something new? With long-term return? Now that’s a challenge, something that will really require me to pay attention to el mercádo and bring in the most dinéro? Ah! I have it! I will plant a vineyard. Only one arce, once in production, can bring in between 600 and 800 gallons of vino, si? With ten acres in grapes, my master would eventually need to build a winery! 10 acres of beautiful grapes! That’s 6000 gallons at least! Aye carámba! Me gústo la idéa! Vino is an industry coming into its own at this latitude in other valleys! I will make my master very happy with this!
Character 2: Latin American Immigrant, working on behalf of the same landowner; with care of herds.
(Answering the phone) “José.”
“Oh! Buénos Tárdes, Señor! How are you today? … Aye, que buéno, glad to hear you are doing well, Señor. … I was just making plans to rotate the herds. … Yes, the Llamas are watching the sheep, they make good guardians; … You what? … And you don’t know when you’ll be back? … Alpácas? … Si Señor, I can do that, I would be happy to do so…treat them as if they were mine, you say? Like a gift, Señor? … And you don’t know when you will be back? … Okay, safe travels, Señor. All will be taken care of. Adios.” (hang up).
“What will I do with these 5 hembras (female alpaca) ? Surely Señor didn’t mean…well, he said to treat them as if they were mine, so what would I do? That is simple! I breed them! 5 plus 5 is 10! I will double the herd! Ah, yes, that will be just lovely. Now, let’s see, who do I know that has a good macho (male alpaca)? Oh, wait: Señor said he might not be back for some time…so perhaps I should plan a little further out than next spring. And there is no guarantee all will produce in one year, either, no matter how good the macho is…Ah, here is what I will do: I will call mí hermána, she makes warm sweaters. I will begin to be more interested in her work and woo her into joining us to start una indústria doméstica for the Master; I hear Alpáca wool is even softer than Llamas. The wool should fetch a good price. Sí that is what I will do…
Character 3: Cheese Cave on the landowner’s estate
(Answering the phone) “Fred.”
“Yes, sir, 54 degrees, sir, 90% humidity sir. … No sir, no change sir. … Yes, sir, this year’s blue cheese is scheduled to go out to shipping on—What, sir? … That’s an awful lot of money, to take care of, sir. … Very well, sir, I can come and get it, sir.”
(Fred hangs up and pulls out a large piggy bank full of coins)
“What do I do with this? I don’t know anything about investing. Did my Master mean for me to buy more cheese? There are so many kinds! There’s fresh culture ripened, salt-rubbed or brined, pasta filata, semi-soft, clothbound, non-blue bloomy rind, surface-ripened, mold-ripened, washed and smeared, Oh, there are so many choices! What do I do? Maybe he means I should take the money and go to school and learn more about cheese. Only who would check the temperature if I left? I wonder why the master gave this into my keeping? I suppose I could give it to the others to use; but then I wouldn’t be able to return it, and who knows if the others would make anything with it…they might even lose it all or something. No, no, he gave it to me. Is that it? Am I supposed to keep it safe? What am I to do? What am I to do? I just don’t know… I’ll just put it in the back room in the Cheese Cave and it will be safe from all harm. No one will find it there, no one will use it up and maybe lose it, lest of all me. I will just return it to him later; after all, it’s not really mine anyway. I just need to keep doing my job; check the temperature, send the cheese to shipping….
Friends, parables are stories that point to deeper, more central truths. What I have just done, an attempt at acting out the parable with contemporary characterizations, is still just a parable, a story pointing, I hope, to a deeper, central truth.
I hope what you have learned is this: The Kingdom of Heaven this side of eternity is what we, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world today, make of it with the gifts we have been given. There is still time for us to keep our vigil, like the wise bridesmaids who brought with them their jars of extra oil in case of the bridegroom’s delay, or to make use of the gifts we have been given by the Master. Our work this side of eternity, after all, is to be our Master’s servants, to help our Master’s Kingdom grow and prosper. When our Lord and King return, what sort of kingdom will he find? We are the stewards: it is our calling and our responsibility to not just take care of it, but to invest in it.
May the winds of the Holy Spirit kindle the embers of our hearts into flame, and may all glory be unto God and unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Word Biblical Commentary (New Testament) (WBC-NT) Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214-1000. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 1.5